The Greatest Stages are for the Greatest Showmen
Cometh the hour, cometh the man! A legendary statement uttered that resonates with the most orgasmic moments in football. Ryan Giggs in 99, Diego Maradona, leading Argentina to their World Cup Triumph, Neymar leading the unreal Barcelona comeback against Paris Saint Germain, Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly eliminating Atletico Madrid when he was at Juventus, etc.
The list goes on. So knowing that the stage had been set, Sadio Mane who could have ended this tournament as the villain, ended up being the man of the moment for Senegal.
The final for the AFCON 2021 took place on the 6th of February to successfully bring it all to a close. The opponents, Egypt and Senegal have arguably been light and dark in this competition.
Quite how Egypt even reached the final was quite the miracle. They went to extra time in every game after the group stages and were lucky to survive penalty shootouts with their various opponents.
But none of that mattered. They were here. The 7-time winners were in another final, on the verge of making it 8. And then there was Senegal. The runners-up last year fell to mighty Algeria. Senegal played their hearts out, but Mahrez and his men would not be denied their glory.
And 2 years later, here they were again, after blowing their opponents away time after time in this tournament. Ready to rewrite the history books and finally lift the trophy for the first time in their footballing history.
This was a high-stakes final, and with Liverpool teammates Salah and Mane facing off, it was always going to be a classic.
Senegal Vs Egypt’s Goalie
The game was one-sided for most of the 90 minutes. Egypt, who played as a counter-attacking side, had no other option than to submit to the attacking nous of Senegal. All they could do was hope a ball would break and they would be able to send their forwards through.
The only reason they held on was their goalkeeper. The goalkeeper had a fantastic tournament, saving Egypt’s skin time and again. He’s been a professional shot-stopper both in games and in penalty shootouts, and it was no different here. Notable was when he kept out Mane’s penalty early in the game.
He kept Senegal out time and again, bailing a busy Egyptian defense out. The more chances Senegal failed to take, the more fans and viewers concluded that they would lose in the end. It’s one of those scripts in football.
If a dominant team doesn’t take its chances, it ends up regretting it. And the game looked like it would move in that direction.
Eventually, the game goes into extra time. And bar a Mendy save that kept out Egypt, it remained goalless. Penalties were all it would take to separate the winner from the loser.
Senegal hadn’t been here before. This was new territory, even for them. But Egypt had been here and had lived to tell the tale in this tournament. Their goalkeeper held their hopes and aspirations as they trusted him in keeping out the penalties. But luck and goodwill can only work out for you for so long.
Eventually, reality catches up and leaves you shocked. And that’s what happened. Although the Egyptian goalie made a few saves, he had to succumb. And to whom did he succumb? The Lion King of the pride of Tauranga Lions. The man who failed to convert his penalty in the open play had the chance to win it all.
The keeper saw the ball, but he couldn’t do anything about it. It was flying, and it was flying into the net. That was it.
Mane’s celebratory run alone told the story. It was the first time Senegal was lifting the trophy. It was history in the making. It was written in the stars and meant to be. Only fitting that the man who could have become the villain at the end turned out to be the savior.
Senegal has finally shaken off their voodoo and joined the table of champions. Mane consoled Salah afterward because that’s what friends do in the end. But this victory belongs to Senegal, and they deserve it.